Families in Crisis, Societies in Decay
MORE than half of all serious crimes in the United States are committed by children 10 to 17 years old. Murder, rape, aggravated assault, robbery, burglary, car theft—you name it; the kids have done it. Youth crime is rising twice as fast as adult crime, and girls are rapidly getting involved in violent crime. From 1970 to 1975, girl offenders increased 40 percent, to compare with 24 percent for boys.
Juvenile courts and laws governing youthful criminals make them a privileged class. They are spewed out by the courts about as fast as they are brought in, and are again preying on the very young, the very old, the lame and the blind—or, in gangs, and armed with knives and guns—on anyone. Daily it is drummed into us that punishment is no deterrent to crime. Yet lack of it removes restraint on youthful criminals. A 12-year-old who specialized in robbing elderly women, later said: “I was young, and I knew I wasn’t gonna get no big time. So, you know, what’s to worry?” Another boy, 15, recalled why he shot a man: “Wasn’t nothin’. I didn’t think about it. . . . I was young. The most I could have got then is 18 months.”
Doubtless there are several factors responsible for this modern epidemic of young criminals. Time magazine, July 11, 1977, ran a cover story on “The Youth Crime Plague,” and said: “Most important is the breakdown in the family.” One judge, who hears a thousand juvenile cases a year, was reported as saying: “We look for quick solutions, but family stability is the long-term answer.”
Many contend that a big factor in violent crime is what is offered on television. It saturates youthful viewers with sex, violence and murder, and it certainly has its bad effect. However, an interesting article was published in the January 28, 1978, TV Guide magazine. Among its statements were the following: “Japanese television is very much like our own, violence and all.” “The Japanese are plugged into TV as irrevocably as we are.” “Japanese TV puts enough violence out on the airwaves every week to turn the entire younger generation of that country into killers, addicts and sadists—if. Curiously, however, that is not what has happened.” The magazine quotes others as saying: “Television simply does not have that kind of effect on Japanese youth.” “There is no way to relate TV violence to crime in Japan because there is so little crime.”
And why is this? For the answer, the article quotes Dr. Iwao as saying: “Mass media do not have the same impact in Japan. The family is still too strong, too influential in the lives and conduct of young people. In Japan, if a member of a family, even a juvenile, commits a crime, the act brings shame to all members of the family. This is a powerful deterrent to bad behavior.” The family is too strong. It provides immunity to the virus of television violence. The family must not be shamed. It reminds us of the Bible proverb: “A boy let on the loose will be causing his mother shame.”—Prov. 29:15.
The Family in History
In Part II of Will Durant’s The Story of Civilization, it is shown how, in ancient Greece, moral decay destroyed the family. Prostitution, homosexuality, dances of naked women—everything was acceptable. Athenian life was portrayed in plays as a round of triviality, seduction and adultery—reminiscent of today’s television “soap operas.” As women became emancipated, they revolted against wholesale maternity. Families were limited by abortion, which was punishable only if practiced without the husband’s consent, or at the instigation of the woman’s seducer. After relating these conditions, Durant continues: “We have tried to show that the essential cause of the Roman conquest of Greece was the disintegration of Greek civilization from within. No great nation is ever conquered until it has destroyed itself.”—Pp. 567, 568, 659.
In Part III of Durant’s history, he tells of the strength of the family in Roman times, how it hardened the Roman character and made the empire strong and enabled it to conquer the world. But as centuries passed family life weakened and the Empire’s strength waned. Page 364 says of the family erosion: “Contraception was practiced in both its mechanical and chemical forms. If these methods failed there were many ways of procuring abortion. Philosophers and the law condemned it, but the finest families practiced it. ‘Poor women,’ says Juvenal, ‘endure the perils of childbirth, . . . but how often does a gilded bed harbor a pregnant woman? So great is the skill, so powerful the drugs, of the abortionist!’ Nevertheless, he tells the husband, ‘rejoice; give her the potion . . . for were she to bear the child you might find yourself the father of an Ethiopian.’”
However, in the deteriorating Roman world, “the family life of the Jews was exemplary, and the little Christian communities were troubling the pleasure-mad pagan world with their piety and their decency.” (P. 366) The Jewish communities were following Biblical principles concerning family life, as were also the Christian families. Today that ‘exemplary family life’ is not so much in evidence. The New York Times, in a report on ‘Crisis in the Orthodox Jewish Family,’ said:
“Orthodox Jewish-American families, even with their adherence to tradition, are now experiencing an upswing in nonmarital sex, alcoholism, drug abuse, breakdown of the extended family, rebelliousness of youth and, particularly, divorce. Rabbi Wurzburger said a recent survey of the religious divorce court (Beth Din) indicated that four out of ten Jewish marriages were dissolving. While the rate was somewhat lower among Orthodox families, Rabbi Wurzburger called the trend ‘the most formidable threat to Jewish survival facing us today.’ . . . deviance was traditionally handled within a secure family and community framework—with general agreement on right and wrong. Now that unilateral authority seems to be eroding faster than ever, and the leaders were not sure what will take its place.”
Nothing will take its place. Greece found nothing to replace it. Rome found nothing. This present world is now undergoing a similar moral collapse and erosion of family stability. History is emphatic: when the family arrangement erodes, the strength of communities and nations decays. The World Book Encyclopedia (1978), under “Family” (Vol. 7, p. 24), thus sums up the matter:
“Family is the oldest human institution. In many ways it is the most important. It is society’s most basic unit. Entire civilizations have survived or disappeared, depending on whether family life was strong or weak. Families have existed since earliest times, and will undoubtedly exist as long as people live on the earth.”
Basically, the breakdown of family life in our society today is the root cause of the epidemic of youthful criminals.